Agilectics – Retrospective #1

It was a Whatsapp message from Anoop which triggered the whole process.

He introduced himself as a participant of one of my Agile workshops held in Kochi, almost seven years ago. His name didn’t ring a bell instantly but the moment I saw his photograph, I could place him. After his tryst with a few small and large organizations, Anoop had started his own company and presently works with a team of around 40 engineers, with networks in the US, the UK and Africa.

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Anoop and his partners wanted to incorporate the Agile work culture in their team. That sounded great.

Firstly, their team was small and they were yet to form a work culture of their own. They did follow some Scrum practices without truly understanding the intended purpose and benefits. The second aspect was their willingness to listen –  a critical success factor when embarking on an Agile journey. Most of their team was on new development work and the rest on support activities. The first step was to achieve a common Agile awareness. We began with scrum training for all, which covered the Agile manifesto and practices. The development team took up Scrum using Jira. For the support team, we recommended Kanban as it is a continuous flow. These steps swiftly introduced them to immediate benefits, which is important for any startup. Now, they are an impressively self-organized group. We could achieve this goal fast because of the team constitution and their willingness to learn and experiment.

Movement from work allocation to work volunteering is the biggest challenge I have faced in many other organizations. Here, I was lucky to get a Scrum master with a strong conviction and he was committed to having the right method implemented, with the support of his team. Post the second sprint, their productivity is on upward track, their customer is happier and the team has a better work-life balance. We are currently focusing on the design and deployment of an Agile performance appraisal system which is in line with the agile principles and values. As a first step towards this, we have delivered a framework for personal goal setting, prioritization and time management. Will blog about this in detail after the roll-out.

Some of the key aspects of this particular team:

  • Highly technical
  • Good implementation of Agile using Scrum
  • Jira tool provides excellent transparency to all stakeholders
  • They are honest about what they can do and where they need improvement
  • Young, enthusiastic minds with a willingness to listen, experiment and learn.

For more about this team Contact us 

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Agilectics – Retrospective#0

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In order to have an overall understanding of scrum framework, it takes only a couple of hours of reading of scrum guide. As per the founders of scrum, it is a framework which is easy to understand but difficult to implement. The reason being, it is a value based system than a rules driven system. Several discussions are going on in the social media about ‘what is agile?’. I like those self introspection by agilists , because all of us can easily and conveniently forget the fact that improving agility is a continuous process. It can happen only in a work environment based on;

  • Commitment (to the work)
  • Focus (Focused work)
  • Openness (Work environment where people can share their views without fear)
  • Trust
  • Respect (Self respect and mutual respect)
  • Courage (Courage and confidence for decision making)

Many sponsors of agile initiatives do not focus on these aspects, or by the time they realize that these are important,  their organization would have already developed a culture of it’s own with it’s roots on command and control systems. This happens  because by that time they would have hired senior people with command and control backgrounds. In such environments, the idea of self organizing teams take a beating. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to re-engineer culture, once it is set.

As an entrepreneur, if you really want to develop a culture conducive for agile and self organizing teams;

  1. Start early, when the organization is still small.
  2. Define your value system (what type of a work environment you want to create)
  3. Recruit the right people who can align with the value system.
  4. Allow the processes to evolve based on the team retrospectives
  5. Do not stick to any one agile framework. Scrum can be a good starting point, then start looking at all other frameworks for good practices.
  6. Implement a reward and recognition system which support the value system

Things to avoid

  • Do not recruit managers/leads who do not have conviction on agile. Many large organizations push their managers to agile certifications just to boast about the number of certified agile masters they have. Certifications does not mean that they are good in agile. Certified scrum masters with conviction on scrum is a very rare breed. If you spot one, recruit, else wait.
  • Avoid recruiting managers who are not willing to unlearn and re-learn.
  • Avoid recruiting testers with lot of experience in independent manual testing. teams. Start looking for testers who are good at test automation and good functional knowledge.
  • Do not have the wrong notion that excellence is linked to experience. Many highly experienced people can become a liability in the agile world.
  • Agile will not solve any of your problems just by implementing a agile framework. Agile will start exposing the weak areas where you need improvement, and these inputs can be easily mistaken as problems of agile, when they are actually the problems of the organization/team. Agile will expose the problem areas very fast and it is up to you to address them. Because you are failing fast, you get more time to recover and improve. That is the real benefit of agile over waterfall. In waterfall models projects make good progress during the initial phases, and then they slow down because of technical and functional issues. Contrary to that, agile projects makes slow progress during the initial phases and picks up momentum as the projects progresses.

How many of you can really appreciate the airline staff, when the flight is delayed because they detected a technical snatch before take off?.  As a sponsor of agile initiative, if you have that kind of a mindset, please embrace agile. You must be willing to celebrate a failed early sprint and throw a party for the team for their honesty.  When you go to the gym, what you get first is body pain. If you continue it despite the initial pains, then you develop muscles, and you can lift more.